The First Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 16:19-31
In Christ Jesus, who in mercy brings down the mighty from their thrones and exalts those of humble estate, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (Luk. 1:52-53), dear fellow redeemed:
In some places, you would hardly go a day without seeing a homeless person. In our communities, you might not see one in a calendar year. When you do happen to see one, what is your gut reaction? Is it disgust? Compassion? Curiosity? You probably find it hard to imagine how the person got to be in that situation. Isn’t there some family member or friend who could help them? Couldn’t they just get a job?
The solution to homelessness is hardly ever so simple. We can’t tell by looking at them what is in their past, what difficulties they might have experienced. Their homelessness might be self-inflicted due to poor choices they have made or even from laziness. Or they may be victims of circumstances outside of their control, like terrible mistreatment by others or serious mental illness.
From the information we have about Lazarus, we don’t know how he became a beggar. It could very well have been a mixture of wrongs done by others along with poor choices he had made. When we are introduced to him, he had already lost everything—a home, personal possessions, and good health.
We can picture him, skin and bones, dressed in rags, flies buzzing around, Lazarus groaning, hardly able to lift his face or an empty hand, dogs sniffing him and licking his sores. The best that he could hope for, the thing that filled his thoughts every day, was the possibility of table scraps. The rich man didn’t need those, Lazarus wouldn’t be any trouble, just let him have a little of what was heading for the landfill.
The status and appearance of the rich man was exactly the opposite. He was healthy, lots of meat on his bones, clothed in purple and fine linen, more than enough food, plenty of friends and admirers, thoughts filled with parties and pleasures. People wanted to know him. They wanted his attention. They wanted to be like him. He was the guy you hoped to see at a fundraiser, the guy you wanted on the board of directors. The rich man mattered. The beggar did not matter.
But then something happened, something that put the beggar and the rich man on exactly the same level. That something does not care if a person is homeless or lives in a mansion, if he has mere pennies or millions of dollars. That something is death. No one can escape it. No amount of money can buy one’s way out of it. Lazarus might have died sooner than the rich man, but both of them died.
Some people might hear this and say, “It is true that death comes to everyone, but as long as we are here, we would rather live rich than poor!” So their whole focus in this life is gathering and growing, more things, nicer things, fun and games, parties and pleasures. Jesus told a parable about this, about a rich farmer who was so successful that he decided to do nothing but “relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luk. 12:19). He did not give thanks to God. He did not think about the needs of his neighbor. He thought only about himself. And God said, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (v. 20).
If we live only for the riches of this life, we might look impressive to the people around us—they might know our name—, but we really have nothing, nothing that matters. This is the central thought in today’s text. Everything is backward from how it appears. The wealthy one wasn’t really the rich man, it was Lazarus. The rich man appeared to have it all but lost everything he valued. The beggar appeared to have nothing but gained greater riches than this world can comprehend.
What was it that reversed their fortunes so completely? The difference was faith. Lazarus believed that even though he had nothing, even though he suffered, God still loved him and would take him to heaven by His grace. The rich man had no time for God, or if he mentioned God, it was only lip-service. He may have talked about “being blessed,” and “having God smile upon him,” but he really thought he was the master of his own success. He had everything he wanted—what more could he need from God?
The rich man was actually a beggar, but he didn’t know it. This is the fatal error that so many still make today. We are all beggars—all of us rich and poor, powerful and weak—every single one of us is a nobody and we have nothing apart from the merciful Lord. We need the spiritual gifts that only God can give us. And He wants to give them—He is eager to give them. How does He give them? It’s through “Moses and the Prophets.”
“Moses and the Prophets” is a shorthand way of talking about the entire Old Testament. The New Testament hadn’t been written down yet, so “Moses and the Prophets” referred to the whole of the inspired Word of God that the people had access to. That means they had the Law of God which revealed their sinfulness. And they had the clear promise of salvation through the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
Through this powerful Word, the Holy Spirit worked repentance and faith. He opened people’s eyes to recognize how far they had fallen away from God, and also to see His ongoing love and compassion toward them. This is how Lazarus came to possess everything spiritually though he had nothing physically. Whatever the reasons for his homelessness, he repented of his sins and trusted in his Savior. His stomach was empty, but his heart was full, full of faith, full of hope, full of love.
He had more than meets the eye. And the same is true for you. You may not have much that catches people’s attention. You might not wear the latest styles of clothing or have a very nice house. You may not be well-known or well-respected. Your best might never seem good enough. The fact is, you are just a temporary inhabitant of this world. You will come and go, and sooner or later your name will be forgotten.
The world will forget your name, but God does not. Ancient history books have no record of the beggar Lazarus whom we hear about in today’s Gospel reading, but God knew him. His name was recorded in the Book of Life. So is yours. Your name is written there because the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, poured out His blood to pay for your sins.
Your spiritual poverty was no one’s fault but your own. And Jesus took all your sins on Himself, all your filthy rags of unrighteousness, and He suffered and died in your place. Like Lazarus, He was put outside the gate. He was covered in painful wounds, bleeding, naked, nothing to satisfy His thirst, surrounded by dogs (Psa. 22:16), no one showing mercy. He did that for you, so that you would have a seat at the Master’s table, clothed in brilliant attire, eating and drinking to your heart’s content.
Jesus completely reversed your fortunes. You deserve what the rich man ended up with—eternal torment in hell. Instead you have what Lazarus received—life in the holy name of Jesus. You were dressed in the rags of your own works that could not hide your sins. Now through Holy Baptism, you are clothed in the garments of Jesus’ righteousness. You were hungry for forgiveness and peace with God, unable to come into His presence. Now through Holy Communion, Jesus comes to you and gives you His own holy body and cleansing blood for the remission of your sins.
You, my fellow beggars, are rich—rich beyond compare! You have everything you need for eternal life in heaven. But what if you don’t feel rich? What if the weight of the bad things you have done keeps getting heavier and heavier? What if you can’t shake the burden of guilt over the pain you have caused, the people you have hurt? What if your sins are more than meets the eye, way more than anybody else knows about? God knows about them. He knows all the reasons you are not worthy to stand before Him or receive His grace.
But He has also put me here to speak these words, and He has brought you here to listen to them. The words I am called to speak are these: Your sins are forgiven. You are no longer separated from God. He is not angry with you. He has redeemed you. He paid the price for your soul, because He wants you to spend eternity with Him in His bright kingdom. All of your sins have been erased from your record by the blood of Jesus. You might still remember them, others might know them, but God does not see them anymore.
You are no longer a beggar with nothing. You are a child of God who has everything. You have a Father in heaven who loves you so deeply that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son to save you. You have a Savior who is so gracious toward you that He wants you to have everything that is His, everything that He obtained by His own tears, sweat, and blood. You have the Holy Spirit who comes to you through the Word of God filling you with comfort, hope, and peace.
You Have More Than Meets the Eye. You don’t need what the rich man had. You need what Lazarus had. And you do have it by the grace of God. Through Moses and the Prophets, through the Evangelists and the Apostles, you have the gift of the Holy Spirit. You have faith in Jesus, who made Himself nothing for your sake (Phi. 2:7), “so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from painting of the beggar Lazarus by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1886)
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 16:1-9
In Christ Jesus, whose saving light shines in the world through our clear confession of the Gospel and our humble service, dear fellow redeemed:
If we did not live at a time with access to electricity, our lives would be very different. All the things we rely on appliances for would need to be done by hand. There would be no digital screens to look at for work and entertainment. There would be no fixtures in place to flood each room with light. We could make use of oil lamps and candles. But for the most part our daily activities would be determined by the light of the sun and the occasional light of the moon.
In a scenario like this, it would be foolish for us to sleep until noon and stay up past midnight. By not using the daylight, we would squander our best working hours. It’s much easier to work when everything is lit up and in view than trying to get things done in the darkness.
In today’s text, we might say that the manager of the rich man’s goods stumbled because he was doing his work in the darkness. We know the manager was wasting his master’s possessions, but we do not know how. It could have been that he was lazy. Maybe he was too passive and not as involved in the work as he should have been. Possibly he was even embezzling some of his master’s riches.
Of the little we know about him, we can say that the manager was most concerned about himself. When he was being relieved of his duties, he showed no remorse for his mismanagement. Instead he worried about keeping up his standard of living going forward. “What shall I do?” he said. “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” That’s when he hatched the plan to mismanage his master’s goods still further in a way that would benefit him personally.
He did not act nobly and honestly. He acted selfishly. It is the kind of behavior we might expect from an unbeliever with a dull conscience. You maybe know someone like this, someone who does not think twice about using others to get what he wants. He doesn’t care about fairness or kindness or whether his actions cause harm as long as he succeeds. These are works done in darkness by someone who “does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1Jo. 2:11).
Believers in Christ, God’s own children, are called to act differently. They are not to be concerned only about their own needs, but about the needs of their neighbors. And their goal is not to try to outdo or even just keep up with others in their materialism. Believers know that having the biggest house on the block, the nicest possessions, and the greatest wealth is not important. Those riches are fleeting and one day will belong to someone else or will be buried in a landfill.
What we are called to do in each of our vocations is to work honestly and diligently and be thankful for whatever God gives us. This is how “the sons of light” should conduct themselves. Jesus contrasts “the sons of light” with “the sons of this world.” The “sons of light” are those who walk in the light of Jesus. They are not afraid or consumed with their own self-preservation like someone lost in deep darkness. They clearly see what is around them, both the good and bad. They see neighbors in need. They see the many blessings the Lord gives them along the way. They clearly see the path leading to the kingdom of everlasting light.
In these ways “the sons of light” have every advantage over “the sons of this world.” The sons of this world do not know where they are going. They have no clear purpose. They have no clear goal. When they reach their earthly end, they are without hope. They ultimately find that all their dealing in the darkness resulted in no lasting good.
This shows how crucial it is for “the sons of light” to shine in the world’s darkness. Jesus said, “[L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16). We let our lights shine by supporting those around us and helping them keep what is theirs. We let our lights shine by being generous with what we have and sharing with those in need.
But the primary way we shine the light of Jesus in this dark world is by sharing the Gospel individually and by supporting the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments both locally and around the world. We have the means to break sinners free from the chains of sin! We have the answer for the troubled conscience and despairing heart! We have Jesus, who shed His blood to redeem all people and rose in victory over death and hell!
We have the greatest Treasure that mankind has ever known or ever could know! It is ours! But what have we done with this Treasure? Have we buried it so no one knows we have it? Have we acted like it was everything to us one day but cast it aside the next? Or have we given our time, our talents, and our treasures to promote the work of the Gospel?
Look at what the world does when it finds a cause worthy of its attention. Look at how much money and energy people commit to their health, to their hobbies, and to their entertainment. The “sons of this world” are relentless in their pursuit of their interests, their causes, and their pleasures. We should be just as relentless in our confession of the truth and in spreading the Gospel to all corners of the earth. This is the point Jesus wants us to take from today’s text.
But first of all He says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” This is an indictment. Jesus is telling us that unbelievers are better at doing evil than we are at doing good. They are more shrewd about things that serve themselves than we are at things that serve our Lord and our neighbor. This is because sin is in us too. We know what is good, but we struggle to carry it out.
And yet, despite our mismanagement of the great riches God has given us, He has not removed us from our position. We are still “sons of light” by faith in Jesus. We are still His kinsmen. He claims us as His own. By His blood He has blotted out all of our wrongdoing. And by His righteous life He has credited to us all the good works we lacked.
He forgives us for the times we have been lazy about hearing and learning His Word, for the times we failed to speak up for the truth, for the times we sold out entirely and let sin overcome us. His perfect stewardship of God’s holy gifts counts for all who are guilty of mismanagement. All sinners who trust in Him alone for their salvation will never have to experience the terror of standing before the righteous God and hearing Him give the eternal verdict, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.”
Because of what Jesus has done to save us, we have no work to do to get ourselves to heaven. But we do have work to do on earth. Jesus explains, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Now take note that Jesus does not say, “make friends for yourselves by unrighteous means,” or by doing what unbelievers do, as though we should try to fit in with the world. He says to make friends by “unrighteous wealth.”
“Unrighteous wealth” is another term for earthly riches. We are to be shrewd and wise with our earthly means, so that the things of God—the good and holy and pure things—are promoted. This does not mean every penny needs to go in the offering plate or to a charitable fund. It does not mean we must live in a leaking shelter and get by on one change of clothes and simple bread and water for every meal.
But we can do more with what God has given us. We can be better managers. We can cut back on some of the things that are less important and focus on what is more important. You could purchase Bibles or devotion books for family members or friends. You could contribute toward our college or seminary or other educational institutions in our fellowship. You could adopt a home or foreign mission that our synod oversees. You could support efforts to assist the poor and hurting with both their physical and their spiritual needs.
Jesus promises that these efforts will bear fruit. His Word does not return to Him void. And when your efforts are exhausted and your earthly end has come, Jesus says that those who heard the saving Word and believed it will “receive you into the eternal dwellings.” They will welcome you into heaven, so that together you can praise God for His abundant grace and mercy.
In another place Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (Joh. 9:4). As long as we are here, we have the privilege and responsibility of managing all the spiritual and earthly riches God gives us. Now is not the time for getting lazy or failing to utilize the light. We Work While It Is Day.
We work in the bright light of Jesus, who puts no heavy burden on our shoulders. He has done the heavy lifting for us and for all sinners by sacrificing Himself in our place. We work knowing that He forgives our failures, and that He will accomplish great things even through our humble efforts. God grant that we may be continuously diligent and joyful in this work. Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(“Parable of the Unjust Steward” etching by Jan Luyken, 1649-1712)
The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 6:1-15
In Christ Jesus, our priceless Treasure, who considered us worth the cost of His suffering and death, dear fellow redeemed:
The restaurants and retailers that advertise on TV, online, and in print are not concerned about how well you manage your money. They want you to buy their product, and they don’t want you to spend time thinking about it. They want you to act on your impulses. They want you to buy now. And we have all learned the hard way why this isn’t such a good idea. We end up with products cluttering our closets and countertops that we hardly use, and we find ourselves in a financial pinch when the bills come due.
So we want to be wise and responsible with our money. We are certainly free to spend it on things we need and even things we want. But it is also good to set some aside, to save it up for future expenses. The government manages the Social Security program as a way to help with this, and many businesses offer retirement plans to their employees.
But the person who has made all the right financial decisions and has more than enough money saved up for retirement still does not have everything he needs. In the end, that person will not be able to buy his way out of terminal illness, old age, or death.
And maybe this was on the people’s minds as they followed Jesus. They saw what He was doing for the sick, how He could heal them in an instant. Those watching may have thought to themselves that while they were healthy today, they could be in great need tomorrow. So they crowded around Jesus and followed Him even when He went to a remote area by the lake.
When evening came, the disciples thought Jesus should send the people away, so they could buy food for themselves (Mat. 14:15). But Jesus asked the disciples to provide the food. The disciples didn’t believe this was possible. The crowd was too big. The need was too great. One of them found a boy with five barley loaves and two fish, “but what are they for so many?” he asked.
Then, as you heard, Jesus took the loaves and fish, gave thanks, and distributed the fragments among the people, as much as they wanted. By this miracle, Jesus turned food for one family into food for five thousand men along with many women and children (Mat. 14:21). When everyone had eaten their fill, Jesus sent His disciples to gather up the leftover fragments, and it was enough to fill up twelve baskets.
That was a lot of food! Maybe the only place you have been around that many hungry people at once is a football stadium or sports arena. Imagine if 5,000 people came at the same time to one of our local grocery stores. How much food would be left on the shelves when they were done? Not much!
So the people had seen Jesus healing the sick, and now they saw Him turn a little amount of food into a lot. You can’t blame them for saying among themselves that as long as they were with Jesus, they had it made. They wouldn’t have to worry about work, because Jesus could provide their food. They wouldn’t have to worry about their health, because Jesus could make them well again. What more could they do to secure their future than make Jesus their king?
They could hardly wish for something better than this, but their reasons for wanting Jesus to be king were selfish. So Jesus withdrew from the crowd and went up the mountain alone. The next day, the people again came looking for Him. He wasted no time in showing their true motives: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (Joh. 6:26). They were not seeking to make Him king because they believed He was the promised Savior from sin. They wanted to make Him king to keep their bellies full.
Then Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (v. 27). What does that mean, “Do not labor for the food that perishes”? Doesn’t the Bible say somewhere, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2Th. 3:10)? Jesus is not telling us here to take it easy and be lazy. What He is saying is that we must keep work and the pursuit of wealth in their proper place.
Those things are for this life only. Our wealth and belongings do not last forever, and we cannot take them with us when we die. They are for our use and enjoyment here, but they must not become our gods. You know how fleeting earthly treasurers are. Think of what was most precious to you when you were five years old; when you were ten; when you were twenty or forty or sixty. Think what thing was most precious to you just a couple years ago. It has probably been replaced by something different today.
If we labor only for the food that perishes, we will live a very empty and disappointing life. More money is great, but what good are extra jobs and overtime hours if they keep husband and wife from spending time with each other or their children? What good is it if work keeps the Christian from regularly hearing and learning God’s Word?
How much would you be willing to give up for your family? And how much would you be willing to give up for the Word of God? If these things are your priority, then everything else should adjust around them. Of course this is a hard thing. Many of us are driven to do more, to push forward, to achieve greater success. We get so occupied in chasing “the food that perishes,” that we lose sight of “the food that endures to eternal life.”
So in striving for earthly wealth, we can endanger our inheritance of heavenly wealth, which God wants to give us. Our priorities are often self-centered and skewed, but His purposes are full of grace and always intended for our good. In fact, God put an eternal savings plan in place for each one of us and for all the people in the world. Your pension plan could be taken away from you, and there may not be any Social Security money available by the time you are old enough to use it. But God’s Eternal Savings Plan is a sure thing.
God’s Eternal Savings Plan isn’t dependent on the government, your employer, or even you. Hi Plan is dependent on His love and faithfulness toward sinners. His love compelled Him to give His only-begotten Son to suffer and die in your place. And His Son willingly went to the cross and grave. The apostle Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9).
Jesus left the glories of heaven, so that He could take your sins upon Himself – the sins of your greed and selfishness, the sins of caring most about the things of this life instead of the things to come. Jesus considered your soul worth the price of redemption. He did not run from the agony and suffering. He did not free Himself from the nails of the cross. You were too valuable to Him. For you, He would go all the way to His death.
Because He did that, your debt of sin has been marked “paid in full.” God forgives your sins, all of them. In their place, He credits you with the perfect righteousness of Jesus. These blessings are gifts from Him—they are not obtained by anything you do. These blessings are yours by the faith He has worked in your heart.
But faith is not something that once you have it, you can’t lose it. As the body must be fed physically to survive, faith must be fed spiritually. Jesus said to the crowd, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35). Faith is fed by hungering for Jesus and His righteousness. It is fed when sinners bring their sins to Him in repentance and drink from His cleansing absolution. Faith is fed by feasting on God’s Word. Once a week in church does not satisfy the soul’s need. Twice a week doesn’t do the job either. The body needs food every day and so does the soul.
Jesus freely gives Himself for our spiritual nourishment. He is “the bread of life.” In words which offended many in the crowd, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (vv. 53-56).
What Jesus was telling them is that there is nothing worth having in the world apart from Him. Nothing else can bring hope. Nothing else can give life. Apart from Jesus, all we have is to chase after things that are destined to break down, spoil, and die. But in Jesus, we labor and persevere toward things that will last—not just for a while, but for eternity.
The eternal blessings of heaven are yours. God has them all stored up for you. They cost Jesus His life, but they don’t cost you a dime. Jesus has prepared for you a great heavenly feast, so that you will never again hunger or thirst or lack anything, but will find eternal fulfillment and satisfaction in Him alone.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes” painting by James Tissot, 1836-1902)